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Inter-war crisis?

09 November, 2018 — By John Evans

Ottone Rosai, The Betrothed (I fidanzati), 1934, oil on board, 70×49.7cm. Courtesy Giuseppe Iannaccone Collection, Milan

MILANESE lawyer Giuseppe Iannaccone says his constant focal points as an art collector are “humanity, poetry, colour and expressionism”.

And in A New Figurative Art 1920-1945, Works from the Giuseppe Iannaccone Collection, showing at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Canonbury, can be seen 50 works that Estorick describe as “by significant artists who belonged to influential schools and tendencies such as the Scuola di Via Cavour, the Sei di Torino and Corrente”, and reveal styles and themes that were far removed from the “monumental iconography of Fascist art”.

Giuseppe Iannaccone writes of his collection: “It is a mirror of the human mind, a mirror of the emotions of Italy during a period of turmoil, a time when the desire to rebuild the country ran up against the violence and suffering of Fascism and war. You may say that this has nothing to do with me, that I was not alive then. This is true. On the other hand, though, I feel emotionally involved in that period.”

He believes that it’s at moments of greatest suffering that people, and artists in particular, express their feelings with the greatest depth, and “his” artists also depict a “contemporary humanity”.

Included is Iannoccone’s first acquisition, Mario Mafai’s oil, Street with Red House, from 1928.

At the opening of the show, the advocate, who explained his expertise has been with cases involving financial scandals, recounted how, at the beginning of his career, aged 27 or 28, he bought the picture. He “made an agreement with the gallery” and wrote down, on the back of a business card, details of instalments he could afford to make for the painting.

Mafai would take walks with Antonietta Raphaël and Scipione, whose works also feature here – and Raphaël would paint the same scene later in the year.

There’s a calming effect from this exhibition, with portraits, self-portraits, nudes, landscapes and still lifes, but little to shock.

There are fine works by Renato Guttuso, Fausto Pirandello, Renato Birolli and more.

But perhaps it is the work of Ottone Rosai, who had volunteered to serve in the First World War, embraced Futurism and then abandoned it, that best displays a sense of foreboding and what might be on the horizon.

At the Estorick Collection, 39a Canonbury Square, N1 2ANto December 23.


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